Coquitlam Little League battling back from financial ruin

Coquitlam Little League is hoping its financial misfortune this past summer will serve as a wakeup call to other volunteer-run sports and community organizations and its efforts to rebuild become a template for them to follow.

Just a year after the league’s All-Star team of 10 to 12-year-olds won the provincial and Canadian championships and then went on to represent the country at the famous Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn., its story took a Dickensian turn when it discovered its bank account was barren. A police investigation into what happened to more than $226,000 in player registration fees for a spring season that didn’t happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing.

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CLL president Sandon Fraser said the past year has been a rollercoaster ride from the highest high of playing in front of tens of thousands of fans at Lamade Stadium in Pennsylvania to the depths of having to cancel the league’s spring season then discovering the missing funds as it prepared to issue refunds to families. But, he added, there’s also been much to be thankful for.

“It’s been overwhelming, the support and recognition,” Fraser said.

He added that support extends way beyond current players and their families, many of whom have chosen to forgive the refunds they’re owed to help the organization get back on its financial feet. He said he’s heard from alumni, local businesses including an accounting firm that’s providing guidance and a pub that donated proceeds of its 50/50 draws during the NHL playoffs, to a woman in Ontario who sent $50 when she learned of the league’s fiscal challenges.

“We’ve had some rough moments, but we’ve also had some great moments,” Fraser said, adding everyone is united in their resolve to keep giving kids the opportunity to play.

He said that’s become especially important in the current public health crisis that has curtailed many organized activities.

“It’s hard for some of these kids,” Fraser said. “There’s nothing for them to play for.”

While the spring season was cancelled because of the pandemic, the league was able to run a modified summer season that consisted mostly of practices and intra-squad scrimmages, and about 100 kids from the ages of 10 to 17 are signed up for fall ball.

But carrying on has also meant CLL has ongoing bills to pay for uniforms, equipment and maintenance of its facilities at Mackin Park.

Fraser said most suppliers, like MVP Athletic Supplies, have been understanding, sponsors have continued their support, and parents as well as people in the community are pitching in their time and labour to help out with things like painting the batting cage.

“No one hopes this is going to happen to anyone,” he said.

To ensure it doesn’t happen again, Fraser said the league is taking steps to review and overhaul its financial practices and procedures under the direction of a newly-created finance committee working with a chartered accountant.

“We’re looking at how money is spent and who is responsible for overseeing it. We’re making sure we are more proactive.”

Looking back, Fraser said the league’s financial woes were an opportunity waiting to be exploited as everything is run by volunteers.

“We didn’t get involved because we have an expertise,” he said. “We have limited knowledge.”

And that’s his cautionary tale to other sports and community groups that can’t afford to take the good intentions of everyone involved for granted.

“This is a good reminder for all organizations to make sure they have everything in place,” Fraser said. “It’s like insurance — you buy it hoping you’ll never need it.”

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